Sustainable Forest Management and Certified Wood

Deforestation - Logging in Tropical RainforestPeople rely on trees and forests for survival, livelihoods, and convenience. Products made from wood surround us in our daily lives. Trees take years or decades to grow so sustaining a steady supply of wood requires pre-planning. As the last tree in a forest falls to the ground it is way too late to say “Let’s plant some trees.”

Humans are not great at thinking ahead. If we were, we might not be in our current predicament of living on a warming planet with a growing population and shrinking resources.

Luckily we do have a good track record at adapting and changing even though we don’t always like or want to. By practicing sustainable forest management we can and are reshaping our relationship with forests and looking to the future.

Why are Forests Important?

First and foremost forests are beautiful magical places in their own right. Forests offer us a place to walk, sit, and explore, a place to renew our spirit and connect with another part of nature.

Humans seem to view practically everything on earth as a resource for our use. Forests provide “services” like absorbing and storing CO2, moderating the climate, retaining and distributing water, preventing erosion, and furnishing living quarters for 50-70% of the world’s plants and animals 1, 2 as well as millions of people. Forests supply a renewable flow of “goods” such as wood, food, and rubber, and support the livelihoods of over a billion people 1.

We cannot survive without forests and yet we cut down or burn 30 million acres of forest each year 1. A prime example of not thinking ahead.

Fortunately, some people in every generation are good at looking to the future, planning, and getting other people on board. Forward-thinking people have been practicing sustainable forest management for millennia by making sure some trees are always left standing in a forest, respecting the interconnectedness of forest trees, plants, and animals, and planting new trees to replace trees that have died or been cut down.

Sustainable forest management is not new. Its globalization is.

What is Sustainable Forest Management?

Definitions vary but in general sustainable forest management is the thoughtful and careful preservation, use, and management of public and private forests. The overarching goal is to ensure forest goods and services are available for current and future generations. It’s a human-centric approach that happens to benefit all denizens of earth.

How Does Sustainable Forest Management Work?

Over the past couple of decades, sustainable forest management organizations have sprung up across the globe. They endeavor to help balance the needs of the environment, people, and businesses. These organizations include Forest Stewardship Council, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and PEFC, to name a few.

Sustainable forest management organizations develop standards, establish certification criteria, and promote sustainable forestry. Third party companies ensure that criteria are met by forest managers, forest product manufacturers, and others wishing to obtain certification.

Forests and companies that achieve certification may use the seal of the certifying organization to inform potential business partners and customers that they practice sustainable forest management and/or source materials from sustainably managed forests.

Sustainable Forest Management Certification

Standards for sustainable forest management certification may vary depending on the certifying organization but generally include:

  • Trees, Ferns, Stream in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, CA - Photo by AuthorMaintaining forest health and productivity
  • Conserving biodiversity and protecting endangered species
  • Complying with laws and international treaties
  • Respecting indigenous people’s rights
  • Enhancing worker and local community social and economic well-being
  • Documenting, monitoring, and assessing management plans and outcomes
Chain-of-Custody Certification

A lot can happen between the forest and the store shelf. Chain-of-custody certification ensures that wood and other forest materials sourced from certified forests are tracked through the supply chain to the end user.

Mixed and Recycled Certifications

In order to encourage more businesses to source at least part of their forest materials through responsibly managed forests, some organizations offer a mixed certification. This allows forest products manufacturers to mix certified material with non-certified material. Generally, the non-certified material must also meet certain requirements, like it was not obtained by illegal logging.

Reclaimed wood and recycled wood fiber certifications recognize companies for reusing forest materials.

Watch the video below for a brief history of how the Forest Stewardship Council started with one business partner on board and grew to be an international organization.

Imagine Your Daily Life without Products Made from Wood

Stop for a moment and look around you. Now make a list of the first 10 things you see that are made of wood or another forest product.

I did this exercise while sitting in my home office writing this post. Here’s my list: house, desk, calendar, printer paper, notepad, a box of facial tissue, book, picture frame, cardboard box, and a pad of sticky notes. I could have gone on but stopped at ten.

Author's Book, Calendar, Rubber Gloves with FSC SealIt’s unrealistic to think we will stop buying toilet paper, furniture, or items packaged in cardboard boxes but we can look for and buy products that come from responsibly managed forests.

Thousands of items from lumber to paper towels are available with FSC, SFI, PEFC, or other sustainable forest management certification. So, the next time you shop look for the seal.

For a global perspective on the world’s forests (past, present, and future) read State of the World’s Forests 2012 prepared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Related Posts

References

  1. Forest Stewardship Council United States – Overview
  2. World Wildlife Fund – Forests as habitat

Resources

Paper Facial Tissue – Green Alternatives

Person Contemplating a Beautiful Green ForestAmericans could save 385,000 trees if each of us were willing to swap just 1 box of facial tissues made from virgin paper to recycled paper fiber. 1 Imagine how many forests we could save by always blowing our noses with recycled paper tissues, treeless tissues, or cloth handkerchiefs.

A previous post delved into the history of paper facial tissue and its environmental impact. In this post, we will evaluate green alternatives to facial tissue made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

I decided to experiment with facial tissues and cloth handkerchiefs. As a person with chronic post nasal drip or just a low tolerance for nasal dampness, I feel I am a qualified tester. My family will say I am picky. I like to think of myself as discerning.

Facial Tissue Experiment

My habit is to stuff slightly used facial tissues in my pocket or purse and reuse them several times if possible. Our household goes through an upright box of facial tissues every 2 weeks or so.

Our small town grocery market has a limited selection of facial tissue so I picked up a few boxes while visiting my sister and niece and on a trip to the “big city.” The 8 brands tested do not constitute an exhaustive study but will give you an idea of what is available.

The facial tissues tested (in random order) were: Kirkland Signature, Natural Value, Puffs Basic, Seventh Generation, Up & Up, Kleenex Expressions, Green2, and Softly. All tissues were white, 2-ply, unscented, came in a recycled paper box (except Green2 which contains no wood), and were deemed adequately absorbent. For the full results click Author’s Facial Tissue Comparison 2013-12-05.

8 Boxes of Facial Tissues for Author's Facial Tissue Experiment

Facial tissue material, softness, price, country of origin, and certifications were evaluated. To keep things simple each brand received a grade from 1 to 3 (high to low) in three categories: softness, environment, and price.

Test Findings
  • Tissues made from virgin paper pulp scored highest on the softness test, but not all brands scored high.
  • Natural Value was the only brand to bear the Totally Chlorine Free seal of the Chlorine Free Products Association.
  • Green2 was the only treeless tissue. It’s made from bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane production, and bamboo grass, both of which are rapidly renewable.
  • Three brands made from virgin paper pulp (Up & Up, Softly, and Kleenex) carried the FSC Mixed label meaning they meet Forest Stewardship Council requirements for sourcing a portion of their wood from sustainably managed forests and other wood meets specific social and environmental conditions.
  • Softly also carried the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal indicating it meets certain sustainable business practices and its wood complies with FSC requirements.
  • The only product both sourced and made outside the U.S. was Green2 which is made in China.
  • Of the two recycled paper brands, Natural Value was about ½ the price of Seventh Generation and had the same softness.
  • Kleenex Expressions was the most expensive of all brands tested and cost 50% or more than virgin paper pulp brands Kirkland Signature and Up & Up which had equal softness.

Handkerchief Experiment

The handkerchief experiment could not begin until I obtained some cloth handkerchiefs. I walked to one of the local antique stores and purchased 8 pre-owned handkerchiefs of various sizes and fabrics.

Test Findings
  • Author's Collection of 8 Second Hand Cloth HandkerchiefsSome fabrics felt soft in the store but not on my nose.
  • Smaller handkerchiefs were less bulky when folded and stuffed in a pocket or purse (duh).
  • Absorbency varied but was satisfactory for all handkerchiefs.
  • Handkerchiefs tended to “dry out” between uses (unlike facial tissues that just got soggier).
  • One handkerchief lasted all day.

Conclusions

My informal experiments demonstrate there are viable and low-cost alternatives to buying paper facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

It is not necessary to pay more for green alternatives.

Even virgin paper pulp facial tissue companies are beginning to focus on the environmental impact and sustainability of their products. Makes sense if your product relies on a constant supply of trees, clean water, and energy.

Cloth Handkerchiefs

I was surprised to find I preferred a cloth handkerchief to any brand of facial tissue for post nasal drip days, but not if I really needed to blow my nose. The small green bordered handkerchief in my collection was the softest and most absorbent.

A possible downside of handkerchiefs is their fabric. Cotton is an extremely water intensive and pesticide-heavy (if not organic) crop and synthetics are often petroleum based.

Pre-owned handkerchiefs that are reused a lot seem the best choice. You never know, you might find some stuffed in the back of a drawer or tucked away in a chest in the attic.

Paper Facial Tissues

Although I like the idea of Green2’s treeless paper, the environmental impact of shipping bulky boxes of facial tissue from China to the U.S. just does not make sense to me.

At about half the price with same softness, I selected Natural Value over Seventh Generation for recycled paper tissues to have around the house.

I admit that when I have a really bad cold, I blow my nose with virgin paper pulp facial tissues. I am still searching for a more eco-friendly brand with equal softness. Out of the 5 virgin paper brands tested, I think the best choice is Up & Up due to its softness, FSC Mix certification, and low price.

Try Your Own Facial Tissue Experiment

Now you are armed with information and some choices for green alternatives to facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine. The next time you shop for facial tissue, look for an eco-friendly brand and try one out. Or skip facial tissues and give hankies a try.

Reader Note: When I mention a specific product in a post, it is because I think you and other readers may find the information useful. I do not accept product review solicitations and I do not receive compensation of any kind for mentioning a product in a post.

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References

  1. Seventh Generation – 100% Recycled Facial Tissue: Did You Know…